What kind of fabric is Fleece?
Fleece is a soft, warm fabric with a napped surface, imitating the ‘tufted hair’ of animals. It is an inexpensive man-made fabric that is very insulating, and thus a good alternative to wool fabrics. It is a knit fabric rather than a woven fabric and does not fray at the cut edges.
Alternatively the skin of an animal used for making clothes is also called fleece.
This Fleece is not that fleece ? Then What is this Fleece?
There is a kind of wool (usually merino wool fleece) which is called fleece. But that is not the fleece we are discussing here. We are talking about the man-made kind.
You can read more on animal fibers and fabrics here.
In this article I will cover:
How is fleece made?
Twisted yarns are knitted into the fleece fabric. A wire brush is then used on the surface to roughen it up and create the nap.
Nowadays, fleece is even made from recycled plastic soda bottles. By wearing this fleece maybe I am doing something for nature.
Characteristic qualities of Fleece
The main characteristics of fleece are its warmth, softness and water repellency.
In fact, fleece was discovered in the 1970s to compete with wool; It is a perfect wool alternative for people who are allergenic to wool. The warmth of fleece is so much valued in making clothes that it is the favorite fabric choice when making winter clothes.
- ☝hard wearing
- ☝moisture wicking
- ☝Deep pile texture
- ☝Warm even when wet
- ☝No fraying
- ☝Has a nap
- ☝Wind resistance
- ☝Lighter than wool
- ☝Has stretch along the cross-grain
- ☝Most fleece will not shrink
- ☝Width usually is between 58 inch – 62 inch
The cost of fleece can be determined by several factors, including weight, stretch, and pilling. Your projects decide the kind of fleece you will be working on.
Different types of fleece
Medium weight fleece is used to sew Jackets, Pants, socks, slippers, vests, sweaters, gloves, hoodies, hats, blankets, even form fitting jeans. It is very popularly used for crafting no-sew projects like blankets, scarves and other crafts like applique.
- Polyester fleece – This is the most popular fleece; polyester fleece is available in many variations and price points.
- Cotton fleece – A knitted fabric with a soft nap. It has great breathability and warmth absorption.
- Rayon fleece – Made from rayon fibers this fleece is soft smooth and breathable.
- Hemp fleece – Very fluffy natural fleece which contains cotton and hemp; it is smooth on one side and has a deep pile on the other side
- Bamboo fleece – Made from cellulose fibers of bamboo and cotton; Characterized by soft drape soft texture and absorbency.
- All natural Merino wool fleece – A fabric made from fibers made from merino sheep’s wool. Very fluffy moisture absorbing and warming fleece
Polyester fleece – Different types
- Polar fleece – a thick 100% synthetic insulating fleece fabric that makes good lining for jackets ad sweaters. It is not moisture-wicking like micro fleece but very economical and warmth giving.
- Microfiber fleece (Microfleece)– Very soft and lightweight fleece, which keep imposture away from the body hence very much used in sportswear and cloth nappies and nightwear. It is a favourite to sew Shirts, Leggings and Housecoats.
- Fleeces with Spandex or Lycra™ (Power stretch) This is a mix of lycra and fleece and comes with the stretchiness of lycra along with all the good characteristics of fleece.
- Faux sherpa – As the name indicates faux sherpa resembles the fluffy wooly sherpa fur. Fibers with curly texture. Used for jacket linings and pet beds.
- Blizzard fleece – a very heavy fleece.
- Luxe fleece (Double-sided cuddle fleece) – This is a high-quality durable fleece which is double-layered and very soft – you may see it as Luxe fleece in stores. Both the sides of this polyester fleece has pile and is very luxurious and very warm; it does not pill like other fleece. But it is very expensive.This is used to make jackets It can be used to make very cushy bathrobes.
- Micro chamois – a very lightweight and soft fleece used to make baby blankets, diaper liners and undergarments.
- Anti pill fleece – Fleece which doesn’t have those unsightly little balls of fiber on the surface.
- Berber fleece – Fleece with a nubby appearance like a lamb wool surface; this fabric is used commonly to make pillows and throws, vests. Berber is a pile product, in that it has a flat knitted back and a curly right surface, similar to sherpa fabrics. Berber is a little harder to sew than fleece, but it is also a little warmer.
- Windbloc fleece – A water-resistant double-faced fleece and soft fleece which is usually used to make sportswear.
- Plush– Plush is a sheared berber fleece ; it has a flat knitted back, but a velour finish on the right side. This is the most expensive of the fleece products.
- Sueded fleece – a cotton and polyester blend fleece with a suede like surface – it is very soft and is used to make hoodies, pants
- Minky fleece– This fabric has a particularly raised texture on one side.
A typical surface finish in fleece is brushed finish and the fleece which is brushed is referred to as the regular fleece.
Fleece is very likely to pill than other fabrics. Anti-pill finish is a very recent advancement which makes the fleece slightly more expensive. This finish doesnot have the usual little balls of pills on the surface.
How to ensure the quality of the fleece you have
- Ensure high density of fibers. This indicates high quality
- Ensure quick recovery after stretching. Quicker recovery means greater quality.
- Pilling of fibers on the surface. Greater quality fleece pills less. You can check this by rubbing the fleece fabric with itself and check for small ball like pills appearing on the surface, at the store itself before buying fleece.
- High price of fleece – Other than the perceived quality of higher priced fabric, there is a reality in that high priced fleece is of better quality
- Look out for high fleece weight – Loft and thickness of the material of fleece is measured in fleece weight – it is usually referred in 100, 200 , 300 fleece weight. Higher the number higher the loft of the fabric and greater the warmth giving property of the fabric. A 300 weight fleece will be appropriate for a very cold weather garment.
Some Do’s and Don’ts in caring for Fleece
Do not dry-clean fleece – they are not meant to be. They are best washed by hand in cold water.
If you are feeling short of time you can wash it in the washing machine at a delicate setting of your machine. If your machine does not have a low intensity/delicate setting do not wash in your machine.
Do turn the garment made of fleece inside out when washing.
Do not iron the face of the fabric. Fleece has a low melting point so be careful when ironing. Iron very carefully from the wrong side if you should.
Do not use the dryer to dry fleece . It is better to hang fleece fabric to dry naturally in the sun.
Do not use bleach or fabric softeners on fleece.
Do not dye fleece. Choose the color you want when buying the fleece fabric. It is available in a variety of colors and shades.
Do not wash fleece with other clothes like your dark clothes. The lint will be hard to remove. Checkout the post on removing lint from clothes.
Do not wash fleece with lint producing garments like towels. Static electricity in fleece will attract lint like magnet. Better to wash all fleece garments together or alone rather than with other fabrics.
Do wash fleece garments inside out.
Do buy anti-pill fleece if you do not want those little balls of fibers all over the surface of the fabric.
Do use a blunt razor to remove pilling already on the surface of fleece clothes.
How to remove stains on fleece
Spot clean the stains on fleece fabric by applying a mixture of warm water, dishwashing detergent, and vinegar and rinsing after 5 minutes.
Sewing with fleece
The main difficulty with sewing fleece is its bulk. It tends to get stuck up in front of the presser foot. One method which helps feed fleece through the machine is to pin the seams alternately: stagger the pins on both sides of the seam to be sewn. Use the tip of your seam ripper to press down the fabric in front of the presser foot if you are still having difficulty getting the fleece to feed easily. You can also use a walking foot.
Check out this post for more tips on sewing with thick layers of fabric.
Do prewash fleece fabric before sewing, as some fleece (especially natural fleece) may shrink after wash. You will also know whether the fabric will pill or not.
Do not choose a sewing pattern with many complicated features. Small pattern pieces, lots of curves, twists etc.
Do mark the right and wrong side on each pattern piece of the fleece fabric. This can be done using chalk, tape, pins or a method of your choice. The right side is determined by pulling slightly on the cross grain (the cut edge) of the fabric. The fleece will always roll to the wrong side. This is very important. Even on non-pilling polar fleece, the “right” side will wear better than the “wrong” side. It looks good on both sides, though.
Do not cut fleece like other fabric. It is a very thick fabric and hence need very sharp scissors. You may have to cut thick fleece in single layers.
Do ensure that the fabric piece being cut, has a nap in the same direction (nap refers to fibers standing up on the surface of the fabric in layman’s talk. These fibers all lie in one direction – when you run your hand across the napped fabric, it will feel soft in one direction and different in another). A downward nap is better.
Do not use fusible interfacing on the fleece. Use sew-in interfacing. If it is necessary to use a fusible interfacing as per the patter, do not iron directly. Use a pressing cloth and then iron and steam in place with moderate settings.
Do use long pins used in quilting to hold layers of fleece together by pinning from the top like a thumb pin rather than like the ordinary dressmaker’s pin which ill fall short when tried on thick fleece.
Do use thin cotton or polyester for lining fleece garments; Under collars can be done with nylon taffeta or webbing. More on lining fabrics here.
Do not stretch fleece as you sew. It may distort the fabric edges permanently. This is a problem with hems – wavy hems are very unattractive. Use thin stabilizer underneath to prevent this. You can also stay stitch the edge. Be very careful as you cut and handle the edges to prevent stretching.
Press seams on fleece. But be careful as you press as hot iron may burn the fabric surface.
Do use a very sharp needle to sew fleece – a new one for every project is recommended. Regular needles will do though for thicker fleece you may need a thicker needle. Use a universal, ball-point or stretch needle–they have rounded tips, which separate, rather than pierce, the fabric threads. Use a 70/10 needle for lightweight fleece, 80/12 or 90/14 for midweight and 100/16 for heavyweight. Use a ball point needle if the fleece has a blend of spandex.
Do use polyester thread instead of cotton thread on the fleece. A cotton-wrapped polyester thread is good for sewing fleece.
Do increase the stitch length than normal for sewing fleece.(3mm to 4 mm – almost a basting length)
Do use a rotary cutter and mat for best results.
Do use a walking foot when sewing fleece for smooth moving of fabric under the pressure foot.
Do lessen the pressure foot pressure a little when sewing fleece.
Do not use ordinary zippers on fleece clothes. Use exposed zippers if you could.
Do hand hem or a single turned hem on fleece fabric edges. As fleece do not fray, a single turned under edge finish with top stitching would be more than enough for hems and cut edges. Binding with bias tape is also used frequently more for its beauty in contrasting coloured binding tape.
Do trim the darts and seams to as short as possible and press seams open to lessen bulk
The edges of fleece are finished with standard ribbing or bias binding or by serging.
Do Vacuum the room after finishing sewing fleece as the lint will be everywhere.
After you sew with fleece, You may have to do a sewing machine maintenance. A good cleaning is recommended after every project if you want to keep your machine working properly, because of all that lint.
Disadvantages of fleece
The main disavantages are bulkiness, piling and fading, odor & pet hair attraction. Synthetic fleece doesnot absorb well. So if you are meaning to make projects which need moisture absorbtion choose cotton fleece or bamboo fleece.